Cork history: The fire that devastated Cork's beloved Opera House

Cork history: The fire that devastated Cork's beloved Opera House

Cork Opera House showing the devastation that occurred as a result of the fire on December 12, 1955.

On the morning of Tuesday, December 13, the city was reeling from the fire that ravaged through Cork's most beloved cultural landmarks the previous night. 

Cork Opera House Echo Front Page 1955 Burning.
Cork Opera House Echo Front Page 1955 Burning.

The headline on the front page of The Echo that day conveyed the sense of anguish collectively felt by Cork residents - 'City Views With Grief The Ruins Of Its Opera House'. 

The fire broke out at approximately 9pm on December 12, 1955.
The fire broke out at approximately 9pm on December 12, 1955.

Crowds gathered at the site of charred Opera House, which had suffered extensive damage. 

The stage, the galleries, the balconies, the pit and the dressing rooms were all destroyed by the fire.

The Echo article captured the poignant spirit of the day, reporting:

"There was a sense of personal loss, for this was more than a mere building. 

"It was an opera house and theatre in the rich, full sense."

There was an outpouring of sympathy from across the country and further afield as hundreds of telegrams arrived in expressing their sorrow towards the Board of Directors, the staff and to the people of Cork for the cultural loss they had sustained.

Please archive -Group of women standing in the ruins of the former Opera House after the fire. 
Please archive -Group of women standing in the ruins of the former Opera House after the fire. 

The thoughts of many were summarised in two lines by an old Cork man who addressed the then Opera House manager, Bill Twomey saying:

"We are all sorry.

"Every true Corkman feels a sense of loss that our old Opera House is gone."  

Members of the Fire Brigade were quick to come on the scene when the blaze broke out at approximately 9pm the previous night. 

They remained on the scene for more than seven hours, eventually entering the charred building at 4am on Tuesday, December 13 when they salvaged one of the only articles to survive the epic fire, a metal plate bearing the words 'Manager's Office'. 

Ruins of Cork Opera House viewed from Camden Quay, 1960.
Ruins of Cork Opera House viewed from Camden Quay, 1960.

Little else managed to be retrieved, except for two safes, minute books, some of which dated back to the establishment of the Opera House, and a few charred photographs of famous faces who had graced the stage of the city venue over the decades. 

The electrical fault which had caused the fire required additional firefighters from Crosshaven and Midleton to help tackle the blaze. 

The Lord Mayor at the time, Patrick McGrath, deplored the tragedy as a "tragic loss" and urged a collective effort to rebuild a new opera house for the city.

"Let us hope that in the very near future a better theatre will take its place.

"It is up to everybody to haste that building so that the people of Cork can again enjoy happy nights of theatre-going, but even then the old Opera House will always be enshrined in our memories," he said. 

The Opera House in its former glory before it was devastated by the fire in 1955. Jack Doyle entertains fans in Emmet Place who were unable to get tickets for his concert at Cork Opera House in September 1933.
The Opera House in its former glory before it was devastated by the fire in 1955. Jack Doyle entertains fans in Emmet Place who were unable to get tickets for his concert at Cork Opera House in September 1933.

It took a ten-year fundraising campaign to eventually rebuild a modern theatre, designed by Scott Tallon Walker through the collective efforts of the government, the Cork Corporation and public support. 

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